“Start at the beginning, continue until the end.”
It seems like really simple advice. Start writing at the beginning. Finish writing at the end.
A lot of novels disregard this with in media res beginnings, anachronic order, flashbacks and flash-forwards. Like all rules, it can be broken, but today, I’m going to talk about the ‘simple’ stories. These ones start at the beginning and continue until the end with maybe an occasional flashback or six.
This leaves us with a question that seems like the answer should be obvious: where is the beginning?
Does your Hero’s Journey start when the Hero leaves the farm? Or does it start when he reaches the big city? Or at his first memories and show us his entire life (Belgariad, I am looking at you)?
The answer it that it depends.
I’m thinking on beginnings because I’m working out the start to a new story in my head. In it, the main character is an exiled nobleman. I could start the story in two places, both of which could easily be judged as ‘the beginning.’ Firstly, I could start it when he is exiled – the attack on his House, his flight and subsequent escape. Or I could start when he reaches his place of exile, where he confounds his pursuers and gains himself breathing space to make new plans.
The latter shows my character, intended to be a competent and charming confidence man, in a light that is more consistent with his portrayal. Either way, he will have to explain why he fled to others, which allows me to explain his flight without ever needing to show it on the page.
It’s not the beginning of the events the story is about – but it is the beginning of the story.
And from there, we continue until the end.
It smelled of smoke. Everywhere in the airship, from the flame room at the top of the hull where the Keeper’s bound spirit sustained the fires that raised and propelled the vessel to the glass-floored luxury lounge at the bottom of the hull where the high class passengers gambled and lied, smelled of smoke.
I’ll leave you with that. Its a reminder that I need to write.